A few days ago, I have formally put an end to a company that I have been fighting for over the last seven years. The last 18 months have been especially tough and I want to share here some insights I have discovered during that period of my life, where the spectrum of failure was every day over our heads.
1. Care for relationships
When everything seems to go wrong and hope is very weak about survival, there is one thing that can make the difference and it is everybody’s mood. I have been able to experience how hard it can be to wake up in the morning and to keep on smiling to all the people you are supposed to work with, especially when you live so personally the harshness of a difficult situation. But you can chose : without that smile, without caring for the persons around, life can become a nightmare. On the other hand, being sincerely present to others, making sure that they have a space to express their fears, their resentments, their despair, this creates a feeling that we are all sharing the same destiny. For us, one very little and simple way to do that has been to share every week a common meal where one different person would cook for the rest of the team. So, I think that being kind to people is not as much an ethical principle as a real survival habit when you are in dire straits.
2. Focus on the positive
In crisis times, negative things come to you automatically, be it a call from your banker, a breakdown of someone in your team or pessimistic thoughts that your brain generates without your control. You don’t have to go out and look for the negative. But the great danger is to let your preoccupations filter all your life experience, forgetting to see all the positive that can happen too. Sometimes, the positive is very small, weak and fragile. If we don’t pay attention consciously, we can miss it. A little progress of a colleague, a true word of compassion from someone unknown, maybe sometimes just the joy of doing your best in the middle of the storm… Many things can become a real blessing, if only you can see it. And, to be very clear, this muscle has to be trained – every day, every minute. It is anti-natural, especially when you are in troubles.
3. You are not your failure
Failure harms our self-esteem. I can always say that it is the fault of the market or because such and such partner behaviour was wrong, deep inside I perfectly know that I have made some mistakes, small ones and maybe big ones. How am I going to deal with this ? There are two extremes : blaming yourself or blaming the rest of the world. Both are ineffective. Without neglecting opportunities to learn and improve, I think it is really important to disconnect who you are (your worth) from what your endeavour, project or company is. In these cases, family and friends are absolutely essential. You should set up for quality times with them more than in “normal” life. Not because it is necessary for them, but because it is necessary for you ! (so also for them…)
4. Live one day after the other
One of the major sources of stress is that you cannot control anything. In any critical situations, you do not know at all what comes next. You hope to convert your problems into success, but you have no clue whether your efforts will be fruitful or not. I know it is probably one of the most difficult thing to do, but I would suggest to avoid planning. And also to avoid putting too many hopes into your own actions. This is probably a mistake I have made during my recent turmoil time : the tendancy to believe that you are going to find a “savior”, be it a new product or a new investor. Success can eventually come from the addition of many many moves, but seldom from a miracle. We all expect miracles, but maybe they only happen when we no longer wait for them. At the same time, a personal daily meditation or praying discipline is really helpful, since it opens you up to seize each day as a blank page and welcome it instead of trying to control it.
I don’t know if these elements relate to your own experience. Maybe I am still too close to it to see the big picture. When I read what I’ve written, I can see clearly how failure has a lot to do with death. Maybe, this is why we hate it so much. But since I think that life has a lot to do with its end, I also believe that such an experience can make us grow dramatically. I would be glad to read your experience on that topic.